Tags Archives: Food security

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Rare-earth mining in China comes at a heavy cost for local villages

By Guardian Weekly / The Guardian

By Guardian Weekly / The Guardian

From the air it looks like a huge lake, fed by many tributaries, but on the ground it turns out to be a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world, collectively known as rare earths.

The town of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, is the largest Chinese source of these strategic elements, essential to advanced technology, from smartphones to GPS receivers, but also to wind farms and, above all, electric cars. The minerals are mined at Bayan Obo, 120km farther north, then brought to Baotou for processing.

The concentration of rare earths in the ore is very low, so they must be separated and purified, using hydro-metallurgical techniques and acid baths. China accounts for 97% of global output of these precious substances, with two-thirds produced in Baotou.

The foul waters of the tailings pond contain all sorts of toxic chemicals, but also radioactive elements such as thorium which, if ingested, cause cancers of the pancreas and lungs, and leukaemia. “Before the factories were built, there were just fields here as far as the eye can see. In the place of this radioactive sludge, there were watermelons, aubergines and tomatoes,” says Li Guirong with a sigh.

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Mining the World to Death

By Robert Jensen / We Are All Apocalyptic Now

By Robert Jensen / We Are All Apocalyptic Now

The following is an excerpt from We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out , in print at  Amazon.com and on  Kindle (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013).

Progressive analyses of inequality and injustice focus on the illegitimate hierarchies in patriarchy, white supremacy, the imperial nation-state system, and capitalism. The final hierarchal system—and in some ways the most dangerous—is the industrial model of human development, the latest and most intense version of an unsustainable extractive economy.

The bounty that makes contemporary mass consumption possible did not, of course, drop out of the sky. It was ripped out of the ground and drawn from the water in a fashion that has left the continent ravaged, a dismemberment of nature that is an unavoidable consequence of a worldview that glorifies domination.

“From [Europeans’] first arrival we have behaved as though nature must be either subdued or ignored,” writes the scientist and philosopher Wes Jackson, one of the leading thinkers in the sustainable agriculture movement. As Jackson points out, our economy has always been extractive, even before the industrial revolution dramatically accelerated the assault in the 19th century and the petrochemical revolution began poisoning the world more intensively in the 20th. We mined the forests, soil, and aquifers, just as we eventually mined minerals and fossil fuels, leaving ecosystems ragged and in ruin, perhaps beyond recovery in any human timeframe. All that was done by people who believed in their right to dominate.

One way to understand that domination is the context of the two major revolutions in human history—the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

BREAKDOWN: Industrial Agriculture

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

In no other industry today is it more obvious to see the culmination of affects of social, political, economic, and ecological instability than in the global production of food. As a defining characteristic of civilization itself, it is no wonder why scientists today are closely monitoring the industrial agricultural system and its ability (or lack thereof) to meet the demands of an expanding global population.

Amidst soil degradation, resource depletion, rising global temperatures, severe climate disruptions such as floods and droughts, ocean acidification, rapidly decreasing biodiversity, and the threat of irreversible climatic change, food production is perhaps more vulnerable today than ever in our history. Currently, as many as 2 billion people are estimated to be living in hunger – but that number is set to dramatically escalate, creating a reality in which massive starvation, on an inconceivable scale, is inevitable.

With these converging crises, we can readily see within agriculture and food production that our global industrial civilization is experiencing a decline in complexity that it cannot adequately remediate, thus increasing our vulnerability to collapse. Industrial agriculture has reached the point of declining marginal returns – there may be years of fluctuation in global food production but we are unlikely to ever reach peak levels again in the foreseeable future.

While often articulated that technological innovation could present near-term solutions, advocates of this thought tend to forget almost completely the various contributing factors to declining returns that cannot be resolved in such a manner. There is also much evidence, within agriculture’s own history, that a given technology that has the potential to increase yields and production (such as the advent of the plow or discovery of oil) tends to, over time, actually reduce that potential and significantly escalate the problem.

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